Eric del Fierro: Dominick Cruz could be ready by UFC 177, eyeing fight against Takeya Mizugaki

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

For Dominick Cruz, a long and often frustrating three-year wait may finally be at an end.

According to Eric del Fierro, Cruz's head coach at Alliance MMA, the snakebitten former UFC bantamweight champion will be fully recovered from injury and ready to fight by August 30, 2014 at UFC 177, if the UFC's requires his services for the pay-per-view card -- although del Fierro noted that a September booking would be preferable.

MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani reported the news on Wednesday's edition of UFC Tonight, adding that according to del Fierro, Cruz's camp is eyeing a potential match-up against top-10 bantamweight Takeya Mizugaki as Cruz's first fight inside the Octagon since October 2011.

Mizugaki is currently riding a five-fight win streak, and a win over him, del Fierro believes, "puts us right back in the mix."

After suffering a series of severe knee injuries stemming from a torn ACL while filming The Ultimate Fighter 15 in May 2012, Cruz (19-1) was finally slated to make his return earlier this year at UFC 169 in a title unification bout against Renan Barao. However, bad luck struck the 28-year-old once more, and less than a month out from the fight, Cruz suffered a grievous quad injury which ultimately led UFC officials to strip him of the belt he held since the organization imported WEC's bantamweight division in late-2010.

"The quad tore off in the groin area," Cruz told MMAFighting.com in May. "The quad tore off, basically right by my groin, off my pelvis. So it's like a groin injury, but not. It was just real nasty, man. It wasn't fun. I was basically at 50-percent of what I could've been. I had one leg, couldn't explode off of it, my leg would give out, because you know, you had no quad connected, so you lose a lot there."

Since then Cruz has continued to take his recovery slow, and if he is able to maintain his health, a bout against Mizugaki (20-7-2) would make sense. UFC officials informed Cruz that he can accept a warm-up bout before he gets thrown back into the title fire, if he so chooses, and the Japanese veteran, Mizugaki, is currently the No. 6 ranked contender in the division.

Though if that is the route Cruz wishes to go, a return date in late-September is a more likely outcome than one in late-August, as Mizugaki recently underwent serious ear surgery in which physicians removed the 30-year-old's ear entirely, treated the appendage for a severe infection deep inside the ear canal, and then reattached it with heavy stitching.

Mizugaki underwent the first portion of the surgery last year and the second part of late. His expected return date is in late-September at the earliest, and according to Helwani, there have been preliminary talks regarding a potential fight between he and Cruz.

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